Irish-American intercultural and interfaith marriage – the benefits of learning each other’s culture and religion

in Intercultural Marriage, Interfaith Marriage

Irish-American intercultural marriage
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For some people, falling in love with the right person from a different country with a different religion isn’t a choice. It simply happens and they’re left with the realization that they no longer could live without each other.

If it means leaving behind families and friends and the country that raised them just to be with that someone that makes them happy, is it worth braving all odds?

The Offbeat Couple

Lesley and Barry live in Derry, Ireland. Lesley is a Zumba instructor, an author and a blogger. Barry is a shopkeeper. When they got married, Barry understood that his wife came as a package of three.

Not only did he marry a beautiful American woman, he also made his vows to her two adorable cats, Charlie and Fox Jeffrey. Lesley brought them with her from America after months and months of planning how to get them in Ireland. Barry has slowly become a cat person…he learned to like them. You can read more about how Lesley and Barry build their life together at Ireland Ever After.

What makes your marriage offbeat?

Well, I’m American and Barry is Irish.  Also, I was raised as a Baptist and Barry is Catholic.

How long have you been married?

We got married on September 18, 2010, so about nine months. We’ve only been living on the same continent and together for about three months though.

What made you end up in an interracial/interfaith marriage? What was your motivation in deciding to marry someone of different culture or faith?

I don’t think it was my intent or probably not anyone’s intent to end up in an interracial/interfaith marriage.  Sometimes fate intervenes…you meet someone…realize you can’t be without them and that’s it.  Love decides it for you.  Once I realized I wouldn’t be happy with anyone else but with Barry, that was my motivation.  I think he would say the same, haha.

Tell us about the wedding. Did your different religious and cultural background affect how you planned the wedding?

Irish-American intercultural wedding
Lesley and Barry’s 1920’s themed wedding

The wedding was beautiful and it actually went really smoothly (aside from one of the stones falling out of my engagement ring hours before the wedding).

It was a 1920s themed wedding which you can see from the black and white photo of us there complete with flappers as the bridesmaids and a silent movie Barry and I created as a surprise for the guests.

It was a feather extravaganza I like to say, as we used only feathers and not flowers in the wedding. Honestly our different cultures and religion didn’t affect the wedding at all.

Since Barry and I were living in two different countries at the time, I ended up doing all the planning on my end in America with my friends and family, so all he had to do was show up, haha. I tried to incorporate Irish tradition in the wedding ceremony in a few small ways.

For example, we used the Claddagh which is an Irish symbol of love, loyalty and friendship for the wedding favors; an Irish reading during the ceremony and the rehearsal dinners was Irish themed.

But, since Barry wouldn’t be super religious, we didn’t do a full Catholic ceremony. It was more spiritual than religious. It was a typical American wedding with the ceremony in the evening followed directly by the reception.

Most Irish Catholic weddings would start with the ceremony around noon, which can last about an hour, and then the reception not starting until about six or seven that evening.

What are your biggest challenges (as an interracial couple) and how do you solve them?

Right now our biggest challenge is my adjusting to living in Barry’s country of Ireland.  It’s a big change being away from my friends and family.  I’ve spent my entire life living in my home town, so being away is incredibly difficult because you just miss them and you have to start fresh with making new friends which can always be challenging.  As far as for Barry and I, we don’t really have any challenges other than that.  He worries about me adjusting to life here.

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Learning about each other’s religion is both enlightening and entertaining

We honestly don’t have any issues with this.  As I mentioned before Barry was raised Catholic, but he isn’t particularly religious now.  If anything, since I’m surrounded by Catholic traditions here, Barry enjoys explaining them to me and I enjoy learning about them.

For example, for Ash Wednesday a few months ago, I noticed a lot of people walking around with what looked like dirt on their foreheads.  I asked Barry about it and he explained that it wasn’t dirt it was ash wiped on them by the priest for Ash Wednesday.

The same goes for him, when he visits a church with me in America, he always learns new things.  Another example, Easter of 2009, he was visiting me in America and we went to church with my family for Easter Sunday and my mom pulled a bag of hard candy from her purse and gave it to us.

Barry nearly fell over because he couldn’t believe we were going to suck on hard candy during church!  I had to explain to him that in church, particularly in Southern U.S.A., this wouldn’t be a problem.

I remember from when I was little the old ladies in church used to make hard candy and place it in the pews for everyone to have during a church service.  He still can’t wrap his head around this.

Did you ever encounter people who frown upon interracial marriage? How did you deal with them?

I see this all the time with other people in the United States, particularly when there is an interracial marriage between white people and black people, but Barry and I have never encountered a problem like this.  For us, people always seem to be intrigued and think it’s incredibly romantic.  In fact, we’ve had a couple of pieces in the newspaper here in Belfast and Derry about our relationship and how romantic it is and it inspired me to write a book which was published last November called Coincidence.

How did your in-laws and extended families from each side react to your interracial marriage? 

Our families were supportive and incredibly happy for us.  My family wasn’t too thrilled after learning I would be moving to Ireland, but that is only natural.  They are still happy for us.

What are the benefits of an interracial marriage?

The benefits for us are learning about each other’s cultures even though were not too different, Irish and American.  In fact, nearly 70 percent of Americans claim some sort of Irish ancestry.  There are still some differences.  I think right now, I’m reaping most of the learning benefit as I’m the transplant here in Ireland.  Plus, anytime you can learn and experience new things only builds more character, right?

What compromises are required in order to make your marriage work? 

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The toughest challenge is the integration process

As I mentioned before, I had to move to Ireland so that was my big compromise and I’m still in the integration process since I only just got here about three months ago.

I’d be lying if I said it was easy moving to a different country because its not and I find myself being incredibly down some days because of it, but I know it’s still early for me and eventually it will be easier.

A few things that are really different is that we don’t have a car here, so I find myself using taxis a lot or just walking.  I really miss driving.  Something about it really gives you a sense of independence, which I never realized until I got here.

And, the shops close early here, so you have to plan out your day more.  For Barry, he was a bachelor and living alone until he was 37 so he’s had to make a big change with just learning to share his space with a woman and have it make all pretty and girly haha.

What are the things that you learned about each other’s culture? How do they benefit your relationship?

Learning about the different cultures is a necessity because it helps you understand where the other person is coming from.  Some things that you wouldn’t think twice about might really offend Barry and vice versa so it’s a learning process with things like that.

If children come, of which culture (and religion) do you plan to raise them?

We’ve never really discussed this, but essentially, Barry and I are both from Christian backgrounds and in my opinion, all Christian denominations are pretty much the same whether it be Christian, Protestant, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.  So, they would be raised as Christian.

What’s your favorite way of spending time together?

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For some, intercultural marriage is purely coincidence

We have pretty busy schedules and only get to spend a few hours a day with each other, so we just kind of lounge on the sofa and watch television.  If I had a perfect setting or idea of how to spend time together, it would be on vacation somewhere where neither one of us had a place to be.

What are your secrets in keeping the romance in marriage

Hmmm….we have no secrets yet.  We’re still newlyweds so the romance is still pretty easy to come by.

Go for it, why not?  Just be open to the idea of learning new things and realize that there will likely be conflict over things that you would never expect, but that’s all part of the learning process.   Plus, you’ll never have a marriage as easy as couples who are of the same race or faith and sometimes you’ll find yourself wishing you did, but life didn’t lead you down that path and honestly, you’ll grow as a person because you are jumping over hurdles and learning things “normal” couples won’t ever get a chance to do.  Everything makes sense until you fall in love.

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